Image courtesy of Abridge, the app for summarizing telemed calls.

We’ve all experienced the medical appointment in which the doctor asks questions and logs answers on a laptop. Afterward, we can’t recall some of the doctor’s explanations. Or maybe a family member sits in to take notes but struggles to write down the medical terminology and doctor’s instructions correctly.

Now, an app created by Pittsburgh startup Abridge uses artificial intelligence to generate a post-visit summary for patients and physicians. The goal, says Abridge co-founder and CEO, UPMC cardiologist Dr. Shiv Rao, is to empower patients to take a more active role in their care and assist clinicians with the burden of medical record-keeping.

The company was inspired by Rao’s own family experience with a rare disease and his experiences as a physician. The free app records conversations and its machine learning, designed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers at Abridge, extracts only medical-related information — not comments about the weather or the Steelers — and transcribes it into a “smart” summary.

UPMC cardiologist Dr. Shiv Rao.

A patient can consult the transcript or replay the audio to revisit what was said about diagnoses, treatments or medication.

“It’s there indefinitely, as long as you want it to be there,” says Rao. “A patient can delete it. The clinician has a copy for care-related purposes. … It is a very interactive summary. You can tap on those medical moments that are transcribed and it will automatically play those parts of the conversation.”

Abridge rolled out the app more than a year ago, but it’s come into new use during the COVID-10 pandemic. UPMC, an investor in Abridge, has shifted much of its care delivery from in-person to virtual to protect patients and clinicians from the virus; telemedicine visits increased 3,700 percent in a matter of weeks, from about 250 encounters per day in March to as many as 9,500 per day by the end of April.

The app is especially helpful to patients who might be distracted by the technology of a telehealth visit, or activities in their homes. Abridge’s technology highlights key medical terms and next steps, enabling users to review important details.

“I’ve been using it since it was released and it’s been a great help,” says Yolanda Murphy of Churchill, a four-year breast cancer survivor who still has many doctor appointments. “It’s like peace of mind being able to go back and check what was said. It’s very helpful, and with my parents, who are older, it’s simplistic for them to use, too.”

Doctors who use Abridge for some telephone visits simply call their patients through an Abridge-enabled phone number, without any special downloads. With consent, the calls are recorded and the app automatically transcribes the medically relevant sections and provides helpful links to additional information. After the call, patients receive a text message telling them how to access their summary. For in-person or video appointments, patients can use the app on their smartphones or tablets to record the physician visit.

UPMC and Abridge plan to soon move the summaries from phone visits into the electronic health record to help physicians better coordinate care.

The idea is to allow the clinician to be more efficient and effective, says Dr. Rob Bart, UPMC’s chief medical information officer.

“Physician burnout a big topic nationally and one we discuss here, and some of that burnout is related to the burden of electronic health records documentation and the digital paper chase it creates,” Bart says. “If we can take some of the parsed information generated by Abridge and have it dumped into a template of the clinical notes the clinician is going to make, it would really aid in streamlining the documentation. … Then the interaction [physicians] have with you becomes more direct.”

Abridge  emerged from the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance, a collaboration between UPMC, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. Rao and co-founders Sandeep Konam and Florian Metze of Carnegie Mellon started the company in March 2018. The company now has 13 employees and offered its first download in July 2019.

“We’re excited to be one of the first companies that’s really at the intersection of health care and machine learning,” Rao says.

Clinicians interested in learning more about Abridge can visit Patients can download Abridge for free on the App Store or Play Store.

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.